When talking about changes between each console generation, talk about graphics, sound, and horsepower are all obvious ones. One change this console generation has had to deal with though is console features
Each generation so far has gone through the time-proven process of redesign and rerelease during the aging phase of the console. The NES went top-load, the Genesis got smaller, the Playstation 2 did a bit of both.
In each case, the console was out for a few years before this happened, and in each case the features stayed nearly if not completely identical.
This generation has been quite different. Both the PS3 and the Xbox have undergone a NUMBER of changes, and during each metamorphosis a number of features changed.
That's fine, they can have different console versions for different audiences. But here's what they have to do to make that work: Stop changing the standard feature set.
The Xbox has come with and without a hard drive, with and without high definition cables, with and without wireless controllers. The lack of hard drive especially sends a mixed message to consumers about what expectations they should have about the console. My 20gb drive remains easily 75% full at all times. Maybe I'm not in the majority, but a memory card just does't cut it. With the additional functionality of storing full games on the hard drive after the fall update, the message is crystal clear: You need a hard drive to full enjoy the Xbox360. However from the shelves, you can still pick up a 360 Arcade edition.
On the Playstation 3 front, there are so many versions that it's gone beyond confusing. First there was the 20 and the 60gb. The 60 had wireless, card readers, 4 usb ports, and of course that big hard drive. The 20 had 1 usb port, no wireless, no card readers. Both of those were backwards compatible. Then the 20 went away to be replaced by the 80. This has limited backwards compatibility that was software-based instead of through an actual chip on the board. Then the 60 went away for the 40 which had no backwards compatibility at all, though it does include wireless internet. Now the 80 is going away to be replaced by another 80 with no backwards compatibility at all.
Then there was the whole controller debacle with the SIXAXIS and Dual Shock 3...
In each case some major feature was changed like backwards compatibility or wireless, leaving people wondering, which one do I want? Am I going to feel the burn a year down the road if I don't have this feature or that one?
So this generation's burden is figuring out the feature list for the modern console. Will they actually figure it out, or will there be 8 different Xbox Infinity versions and 20 different Playstation 7s?
Guess we'll see...
ETA: Sony has announced a 160GB model
for $500 later this year. It comes with Drake's Uncharted and is otherwise identical to the 80gb version. When will the madness stop?!